The United States of America is going to the World Cup this December. It just feels good to type that. After the disappointing result during 2018 qualifying, the senior team locked up a spot in Qatar last night in Costa Rica. While the game itself wasn’t great, ending in a 2-0 defeat and keeping up the U.S. losing streak in the country, overall the result is what fans wanted.
Looking more locally, only one current New York Red Bulls’ player was in the lineup during this qualification cycle. RBNY team captain Aaron Long returned to the senior team for the first time since March 2021. It could be considered a triumph considering his recovery from last year’s Achilles injury. However the California native didn’t play a huge role during this three game stint. The 29 year old Center-back only played as a second half substitute against Mexico and Panama.
Across the border, Long only played the final ten minutes in what might be the final World Cup qualifier played between these two countries at Estadio Azteca (which ended in a 0-0 draw). Against Panama in Orlando, Long entered the match in the 65th minute with the score at 5-0. In the qualification deciding game against Costa Rica Long remained on the bench. To be fair calling the match “qualification deciding” is a bit of a reach. The U.S. would have had to lose by six goals to not qualify for this year’s tournament in Qatar.
This is likely what the national team has in store for Long. Miles Robinson and Walker Zimmerman started all three games for the Stars and Stripes during the final three games. Both of them did very well holding back Mexico and Panama. Robinson was particularly a stand-out against Mexico. He worked with ex-RBNY star Tyler Adams in the defensive midfield to near perfection. Adams played back, winning 34 tackles and making 77 recoveries, leaving the two midfielders with a chance to keep coverage elsewhere. El Tri didn’t have options and that’s thanks to this American trio.
One more note is that when Panama broke the clean-sheet with a consolation goal, it was after Long replaced Zimmerman on the field.
It’s hard to really evaluate the captain’s play during these games. He came on as fresh legs in the second half. The draw in Mexico was a huge result, but in those final ten minutes neither team really looked like it was trying to score. The result against Panama was already confirmed too. Against Costa Rica, Head coach Gregg Berhalter’s squad looked exhausted. Considering that the only defensive sub made was taking out DeAndre Yedlin, it was clear Berhalter was still playing to score late on. That left little room for Long to jump into the match.
Between now and December, there’s a chance Long gets knocked off the roster for someone else. One possible candidate is VfL Wolfsburg defender John Brooks. Following a poor performance during the first qualifying window last September, Brooks suffered an injury and lackluster spell in Germany. While his time with Wolfsburg is reportedly over after this season, he could work his way back onto the final roster ahead of Qatar. It all depends on where he lands, whether than be in Europe or with a Major League Soccer side mid-season.
When the 2022 World Cup kicks off Long will be 30. He isn’t a starter on this squad and eventually his time is going to come to an end. Fans shouldn’t be surprised if he isn’t on the team heading to the middle east in December. That being said, I hope he is. There aren’t many players with his leadership abilities available to Berhalter. Overall, he still has tremendous grit against opposing offenses. Plus not many defenders have his eye for setting up attacks from the back and finding space to pass upwards. December could and should be his swan song with the national team in major competitions.
Heading south, two more familiar faces were getting national team minutes. Midfielders Caden Clark and Daniel Edelman played with the U.S. Under-20 National Team in South America ahead of this summer’s CONCACAF U-20 Championship. They joined a squad that included ten other current MLS players including Philadelphia’s Quinn Sullivan and Seattle’s Obed Vargas.
Last Saturday in a friendly against Argentina U-20, Clark played in the starting eleven while Edelman came on as a second half substitute. The USA started the game well and took a lead late into the contest while Argentinian soccer legends Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria and Javier Mascherano watched on. However, the home side came through with a late equalizer to finish the game, 1-1.
On Tuesday, the team finished its January schedule with a comeback win, 5-3, over legendary side River Plate. Clark participated in the match but did not find the back of the net. It should be noted that Plate’s squad consisted of first team players and academy prospects.
Clark seemed destined to make his senior team debut following his work in late 2020 & early 2021. However, surgery and falling down Gerhard Struber’s depth chart have slowed those aspirations. Clark is currently in New York on a loan agreement after being sold to RB Leipzig in Germany. Until he becomes a regular starter again for the Bulls any talk about national team play, especially in a world cup year, isn’t going to be constructive. If anything, he might get a cap during a friendly. But there’s no chance he rises up the ranks to make the final roster for Qatar.
All three players should be back in time for this weekend’s game on the road against the New England Revolution. It’s to be decided if Struber’s immediately puts them back into action after missing two weeks of team training. However, RBNY’s recent results against Boston haven’t been impressive. The team has allowed three goals in each of the last three meetings against New England, all ending with losses. Long should be back in the lineup in what could be a great way to restart the season’s momentum.